PhDiary #8 “It’s ok to not be ok” – Writing a PhD Thesis |
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Posted on 31 Jan '23

PhDiary #8 “It’s ok to not be ok” – Writing a PhD Thesis

There’s no one way to write a PhD thesis. Some will begin in second year; others will blast through it in the final six months. While the process may be different for everybody, the feeling certainly won’t be. The thesis is the hardest thing you will do during the PhD and believe me, you’ll feel it.

As of writing this, I only have about six months left to go. I’m deep in the thesis writing world, with just under 20,000 words to go. While some days I feel like a crazy person, others I’m extremely proud of the amount of work I’ve done. So, if you’re interested in what the thesis-writing experience feels like, here’s a rundown of my personal journey.

Draft after draft after draft

Probably the most painful thing about writing a thesis is the number of times it needs to be re-written. Of course, this is different for everybody. But, nobody writes a perfect thesis first time.

My first three chapters are now on their third rendition and my fourth is on it’s second. Sometimes you need to rewrite the whole thing, other times you only need to tweak sections here and there. But it’s not the work that’s painful, it’s knowing that you can’t quite tick off that chapter from your to-do list.

Motivation can be hard to maintain when it feels like you’re not making progress so it’s important to remember every little tweak, fixed spelling mistake or added footnote is a step in the right direction.

Is this the real life (or is this just fantasy)?

As your brain slowly melts with stress, words begin to blend. Days have no meaning and you start to question your sanity. Were you always this tired, this emotional? Have you ever cried because you bent a spoon, because I have. Have you ever resorted to singing yourself a made-up song to make yourself feel better? I have.

It’s hard to keep it together when all that occupies your brain is a ticking clock and 75,000 words that need writing, rewriting and editing. Your unconscious brain torments you. ‘Will you make it?’ it whispers as your head hits the pillow, you sit down for breakfast, or you close your laptop after another hard day’s grind.

Counting down the words

When you’re in the thick of it, the word count has little meaning. You might have 40,000 words of official work but there is probably 100,000 behind it in notes and old drafts. The target wordcount can seem impossible. But one day, you’ll wake up with only 20,000 words to go.

A few years ago, 20,000 words probably seemed like a lot but now you’re a writing pro. The end is in sight and your sanity begins to return. Unfortunately, the stress doesn’t subside, so you learn to relax into it. At this point you just do what you need to do because you’re almost there.

A rite of passage

I’m not writing this blog to put you off doing a PhD, or to moan about my hardships. I’m here to shed some light on this degree. Academia is a very proud community (as it should be) but that opens up newbies, like us students, to a lot of insecurities when we struggle. But, as the very cheesy idiom states, diamonds are made under pressure.

It’s ok to not be ok; it’s practically a rite of passage. So, sing that crazy song if it makes you feel better. Eat an unreasonable number of snacks and do whatever you have to do to get through to the end. Afterall, It’s always darkest before the dawn.

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Last Updated: 31 January 2023